Exploring Crown Royal, The Whisky In A Bag

As Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible recently named Crown Royal’s Northern Harvest Rye World Whisky of the Year for 2016, I thought we could look a bit deeper into that classic purple bag. Crown Royal was originally created as a tribute by Samuel Bronfman to King George IV and his wife, Queen Elizabeth, during their visit to Canada in 1939. At that time, Bronfman was the President of Seagram’s, and he blended 50 whiskeys to create the smooth character that Crown Royal is known for.

Unavailable outside of Canada until 1964, Crown Royal is now manufactured in the Crown Royal distillery at Gimli, Manitoba. The brand has been owned by Diageo since 2000, when Seagram’s was bought out and dismantled.  There have been several locations for distillation and maturation of Crown Royal over the years.  Among the sites have been Waterloo, and Amherstburg in Ontario, Beaupre and LaSalle in Quebec and presently the location in Manitoba.

In this series of capsule reviews I’ll be looking at each of the non-flavored varieties of Crown Royal. We’ve already reviewed the Northern Harvest Rye here. The official tasting notes listed for each come from the brand’s website.

Crown Royal

image via Crown Royal

Crown Royal

The original blend of 50 full-bodied Canadian whiskies, matured in various casks from fresh oak to ex-bourbon, ex-whisky and ex-wine casks. This is the most-bought Canadian whisky in the U.S., and is widely available for $29.95 here in Oregon and is 80 proof.

Official tasting notes

Nose: Rich and robust, with slight hints of vanilla and fruit

Palate: Delicately smooth and creamy with hints of oak and the sweet flavor of vanilla

Finish: Long and lingering

My notes:

Glass: Medium amber

Nose: Vanilla, cloves, cinnamon, oak

Palate: Smooth, caramel, brown sugar, light on the tongue.

Finish: Smooth, caramel, light brown sugar, medium

Score: 78/100

Crown Royal is a very smooth, approachable, easy-drinking Canadian blended whisky. , Showcasing the characteristic smoothness that CR is known for.  This highlights the blending techniques of Canadian whisky. It comes in the signature purple bag with a gold tasseled drawstring.

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Crown Royal Black

Introduced in 2010, Crown Royal Black is a 90 proof whisky, and of course it is cloaked in a black bag. It is available for $29.95 here in Oregon. A slight change to the original, this higher proof blend is matured in charred oak barrels – a slight change from the original – for a bold texture and finish.

 Official tasting notes:

Nose: Deeper oak background with sweet maple notes.

Palate: Creamy, “velvety”, dried fruit notes, mainly fig

Finish: Deeper bourbon notes and smooth at a higher proof.

My notes:

Glass: Dark amber, the darkest of the five here.

Nose: Spice, oak, vanilla- overall an underwhelming nose for a whisky that is so dark, I would have expected a large bold nose.

Palate: Spice, fig, caramel, oak

Finish: Caramel, heat/bite of rye

Score: 80/100

While all of the components are there, there is just something off; not as smooth as the original, but very close. The taste is bold and stronger, which I like, but the overall smoothness is just lost at 90 proof, and while I do enjoy higher proofs, this one is just slightly off.

Crown Royal Reserve

Official tasting notes

Nose: Rich and complex with a slight apple flavor and floral tones.

Palate: Velvety, smooth and mellow, with defined oak tones, rich, spicy flavors of cinnamon and vanilla.

Finish: Expansive and long-lasting

My notes:

Glass: golden amber

Nose: ever so slight rye, brown sugar, spice, plum

Palate: smooth oak, vanilla, sweetness of brown sugar; but it is light, almost watered down

Finish:  pepper of rye, short, brown sugar

Score: 77/100

This is a bit lighter than the original, and much lighter than the Crown Royal Black. As I am a big bold type, I am not as in love with this as I am the Crown Royal Black. There are some that will enjoy the lightness of this Canadian, but I think it is not as good as the others. The signature smoothness is there, but the intensity of flavor is lacking.

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Crown Royal XO

Introduced in 2014, the Crown Royal XO is a blend of 50 of the finest whiskies aged in cognac casks. The casks are made from wood harvested from the French Limousin forest, intended to create an extraordinarily complex and smooth expression of Crown Royal. Packed in a gray bag with gold strings, a 750ml bottle of this 80-proof release is available for $49.95. The catch-line says that it is “handcrafted for extraordinary smoothness.”

Official tasting notes

Nose: Muted and mild, with notes of vanilla, caramel and light oak.

Palate: Balanced with hints of vanilla, spice and rich dried fruit.

Finish: Medium length with light vanilla, subtle spice and smooth finish.

My notes:

Glass: Golden amber

Nose: rich vanilla, caramel, oak- one of the better noses of the bunch.

Palate: Vanilla, slight rye bite, spice, sweetness of caramel

Finish: Smooth, vanilla, caramel, spice, touch of oak, medium in length

Score: 82/100

The XO is a very well-balanced, smooth, easy drinking whisky that’s bold enough to wake up your taste buds but smooth and relaxed in your mouth. This is my favorite of the five Crown Royal expressions I tasted.

Crown Royal XR

Crown Royal Extra Rare was introduced in 2006. There are two distinct XR expressions, the LaSalle, and an earlier release also branded XR. This predecessor, released in 2006, was made from whisky from Waterloo, Ontario which burnt down in 1993, and featured a red scheme.

This review is for the XR from LaSalle (released in 2012), the first facility built by Seagram’s once they incorporated in 1924. The rarest of the rare, this spirit was made with the last of the whisky from the LaSalle distillery. Located on the island of Montreal, the waters around the island produced whiskies with a unique richness that is full-bodied and smooth. The LaSalle location was closed in 2003, as economies of scale for production were realized. Master blender MacKay spent two years creating this blend.

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The bottle comes in a blue box with gold accents, which also includes a stand and blue and gold bag.  The XR LaSalle is 80 proof and retails for $134.95 locally in Oregon.

Official Tasting Notes

Nose: Light but rich and complex

Palate: Lightly sweet with spicy notes of Canadian rye

Finish: Long, peppery and warm

My notes:

Glass: Golden amber, long legs

Nose: Oak, light vanilla and caramel

Palate: Sweet, rye, CR signature smoothness

Finish:  Peppery, long, soft

Score: 79/100

The signature Crown Royal smoothness is not lost, although the rye adds a nice bite on the tongue and a pepper to the finish. This is not a big bold whisky; this is a lighter sipper. There is nothing wrong with it, but the price point seems out of balance for the contents of the bottle, for my taste buds.

Overall, I have to say I enjoyed the Crown Royal line up – it’s always interesting to try something new. For my friends that are Crown Royal fans, and those who like a nice Canadian whisky, I can now recommend a few different items. I would have to say, given my preferences either the XO or black would be my go-to. Bigger and bolder – and yet smooth and very drinkable – is more my style.  But isn’t that what we want to learn? Learn what we like, what our friends like, and make everyone smile a bit brighter?

Carpe Diem.